STORY: Russia said on Friday it is ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States, a day after U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for bringing cannabis oil into the country.
The case against the Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star plunged Griner into a geopolitical storm after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a proper diplomatic channel should be used to discuss possible prisoner exchanges, and criticized the U.S. for making plans to offer a prisoner exchange public.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was prepared to engage with Moscow through the established diplomatic channels, and that Griner's conviction highlighted her wrongful detention.
"It puts a spotlight on our very significant concerns with Russia legal system and Russian government's use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agendas, using individuals as political pawns."
Griner's sentence could pave the way for a swap that would include a prolific Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison term in the United States, and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, jailed in Russia.
Griner was arrested in February at Moscow's airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She had been prescribed medical cannabis in the U.S., and said she'd made an honest mistake packing the cartridges.
GRINER: "I understand everything that has been said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty. But I had no intent to break any Russian laws."
The U.S. has accused Russia of detaining Griner as a political bargaining chip. Russian officials deny that, saying Griner broke Russian law and should be judged accordingly.
Meanwhile Griner's teammate, Phoenix Mercury player Skylar Diggins-Smith, said after a game on Thursday the team was devastated by Griner's sentence.
"Nobody wanted to even play today. How are you supposed to approach the game, approach the court with a clear mind and the whole group is crying before the game."